The tradition of eating a barbecue is very strong in Brazil. This habit, originally from the Southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, quickly spread to the whole country, and is one of the favourite ways of enjoying a meal with your family or a group of friends. Wherever you may be in Brazil, you shall find a venue offering barbecue, also in a large part of the countryside.
The restaurants specialised in this kind of meal are the barbecue houses, known locally as churrascarias, which specialise in offering a wide range of meats of different types of origin, both in a rodízio system (where a sequence of meats is brought to your table) and à la carte. Prices also vary widely, not only based on the types of meats offered, but also by other factors such as location, premises and side dishes offered.
Here are some basic concepts to consider when talking about Brazilian barbecues:
The meats served at the churrascarias vary according to quality and also the level of the establishment. However, some cuts are always present in a Brazilian barbecue, including picanha (rump cap) and cupim (ox hump), the latter served either with or without garlic. The general rule is to offer the best cuts of the ox, the prime cuts of beef.
Other cuts are often included in a churrasco, including lamb, pork, poultry and, in the more sophisticated restaurants, some types of game and other exotic options. In addition, the local sausage, lingüiça toscana, chicken hearts and the typical Brazilian cheese queijo coalho are also grilled and served during the rodízio.
The Rodízio System
In most churrascarias, the meats are appreciated through a rodízio system – a tradition which seems to have been born in São Paulo rather than Rio Grande do Sul. You pay a fixed price and eat as much as you want, being allowed to stay at the restaurant for as long as you fancy. The meats are served on skewers and your portion is sliced in front of you.
You can always refuse the option offered at any particular moment (but the same cut of meat shall circulate once again some time afterwards) and you can also choose how you want your meat done: rare, medium or well done. Many churrascarias also have some object that you can place on your table saying whether you would like more meat or if you would prefer a break – normally something with a yes/no indicator, or using green/red colours.
Apart from the meats, churrascarias also offer a buffet of side dishes. These range from simple salads, rice, beans and the famous Brazilian manioc flour (farofa), through to sushi in the more sophisticated barbecue houses – some churrascarias pride themselves on having over 50 different hot and cold options as part of their buffets.
However, experience suggests that you do not overdo the side dishes, otherwise you will not have space in your stomach for the meats. You can also find a buffet of desserts, with cakes, sweet puddings, and other mouth-watering options. However, both the desserts and any drinks are normally paid for separately.